Today, the Supreme Court (SC) bench referred the petitions challenging the constitutional validity of sedition law, Section 124A of the IPC (Indian Penal Code), to a bench of at least 5 judges (Constitution bench). The matter was heard today by a three-judge bench including Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice Manoj Misra, and Justice JB Pardiwala. While referring the matter to a larger bench, the CJI said that the reference was mandatory because the provision was upheld in the 1962 judgment Kedar Nath Singh vs. State of Bihar by a 5-judge bench. He further added that it may not be appropriate for a smaller bench to overrule the aforementioned judgment. The bench ordered “In our view, the appropriate course is to direct the papers to be placed before the Chief Justice of India to consider that the batch of cases can be heard by a bench of at least 5 judges. We direct the registry to place the papers before CJI so that an appropriate decision can be taken on an administrative side from a bench of at least 5 judges.”
Along with this, the SC bench also turned down the Central Government’s request to defer the hearing because of the introduction of a new bill in the Parliament replacing the Indian Penal Code with the Bharatiya Naya Sanhita. The bench said, “Learned Attorney General for India R Venkataramani and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta have requested the court at this stage to defer considering whether a reference should be made having due regard to the fact that the Parliament is in the process of re-enacting the provisions of the penal code and the bill has now been placed before a standing committee. We are not inclined to accept the request for deferring the constitutional challenge in these batch of matters for more than one reason.”
While mentioning the reason for rejecting the request, the bench said that the cases under Section 124A of the IPC will not be affected even if the new Bill becomes law. It added, “The provisions of Section 124A continue to remain on the statute book. Even on the assumption that the new law, which is proposed to be brought in by the government before the legislature, would result in a modification of the existing provisions of section 124A, there is a presumption that a penal statute would have prospective and not retrospective effect. Consequently, the validity of the prosecution which has been launched or would be launched so long as section 124A continues to remain on the statute, would have to be assessed on that basis.” After hearing all the contentions, the SC bench ordered to refer the matter to a larger bench consisting of at least 5-judges.